Friday, December 18, 2009

Attempting a Villanelle

So I decided to attempt a villanelle. Villanelles are poems I always start and stop, mostly because it gets to be a lot of work. I must admit though that they're much simpler, in my opinion, than sonnets which I have trying to do successfully since I began seriously writing poetry. As an undergrad, I took a Renaissance Prose and Poetry course and remember how painstaking it was trying to scan the sonnets of Petrarch, Spenser, and Wyatt. And you think because it's a sonnet you can automatically assume it's written in iambic pentamenter, right? Wrong. I found myself questioning if I was pronoucing these words correctly. Nonetheless, besides being difficult, it was also very interesting as the way we scanned the poems seemed to more or less coincide with the mood being expressed in the poem. Thus, I came away from the course noting that tone and intent are key elements to note in scansion.

But back to villanelles. Villanelles only interested after I discovered paradelles, a parody of villanelles thought up by former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. One of my favorite poets Kim Addonizio wrote a paradelle, "Ever After," that I thought was just about the coolest thing I'd ever read.

All this aside, the form of the villanelle goes as follows:

a1
b
a2

a
b
a1

a
b
a2

a
b
a1

a
b
a2

a
b
a1
a2

I was taught by my creative writing professors to respect form and tradition, even if it isn't particularly your personal style or taste. The values of form are multifaceted and I don't think I'm going to get into them here. What I am going to admit is that I find that form is the true test of your skill and focus as a writer. Everyone can write free verse, and in fact many people admit to writing poetry but form is definitely something that delineates the more serious writers. Writing in form is the culmination of all that serious writers do: the mulling, the rearrangement, the excessive time spent trying to reach the poem's max potential. The same is done for free verse poems but when dealing in form, every writer -- serious or not -- has to succumb to this laborious effort for the sake of the poem. And I suppose that says a lot considering that many an occasion I've started poems in form only to abandon them later. But today, not so. All this said, here is my attempt at a villanelle.


AFTERWARDS VILLANELLE

i watch my man gather to go
it's like fruit too fat for its bough. ripe;
the layer bruised from a blow

to the ground. no echo,
only the sun's sucking and trite-
like i watch him gather to go.

flies hover, circle, pitch low.
there is no fight. never a fight.
the layer bruised from a blow.

i skin the bed of its sheets, throw
them to wash. i flip on my porch light.
i watch him from the window as he goes.

the flies gnaw hollows; now full, they slow
their haste. fruit: dulled and blight-
racked, its layer still bruised from the blow.

who will call whom tomorrow?
who swallows the dried fruit for tonight?
i watch my man gather to go.
the layer bruised from its blow.

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